Riker and the crew of the Enterprise find evidence that Picard has been killed while on leave exploring some archeological ruins. Investigating further, Riker is captured by space pirates who are seeking particular Romulan artifacts, but is shocked to discover that Picard is amongst the pirate’s crew! Picard joined the crew as a smuggler when he was captured by the pirates. He and Riker weave a plan in which Riker is cast as a Starfleet traitor, but this causes difficulty when they are forced to help the pirates fire on the Enterprise…
Teleplay by Naren Shankar. Story by Christopher Hatton and Naren Shankar. Directed by Peter Lauritson.
There are lots of reasons that really, Gambit shouldn’t work. The episode begins with the fairly ludicrous plot point of the crew learning that Picard was killed off-screen, presented in such a way that it wouldn’t have a hope of fooling anyone in the audience. It’s about space pirates, a potentially cliched concept that was apparently on Gene Roddenberry’s “no go zone”, and even includes the head space pirate controlling his underlings with a button controlled pain-inducing device. It also threatens for a chunk of time to spend the first episode on filler – the crew’s investigation in the bar, Riker and Troi getting angry and comforting each other, Riker threatens the alien passenger for information, etc.
But fortunately, about 20 minutes in the story kicks into gear with an epic phaser fight, quickly followed by quite an awesome moment of Picard being revealed on amongst the pirate’s crew. Before then, it really threatened to fall into the same trap that Unification did, as well as Birthright, and to some extent, even Chain of Command – which was to make it’s first part simply a gigantic set-up for Part II, with little to really recommend it in and of itself. Gambit thankfully avoids this, and once it does it becomes a really fun episode.
Part of the enjoyment is seeing a very cool Picard / Riker pairing, which is amazingly rare when you consider they are series’ two top-billed characters. Here they aren’t just talking business in the ready room or on the bridge, but they’re knee-deep in truly dangerous situation, forced to improvise at every turn while they struggle to survive and solve a fun little mystery thrown in to boot. It’s a good character dynamic that really we should have had more of in seven years of stories.
Another good element in the show is Richard Lynch as Baran, who does a good job bringing this potentially ludicrous character to life (really, how is nobody has just killed this guy from behind before this?) and making him menacing and interesting. He’s got a good dynamic with both Riker and Picard, and does well as the episode’s third lead.
There aren’t many weak spots in Gambit, Part I. Back when it first aired, I remember my friend finding the element of Picard’s supposed death without actually seeing it being irritating. But for me, I don’t think seeing the “disintegration” would have made it any better–we’d still know it was all nonsense. This way made the reveal of Picard halfway through much more effective, which was a moment so great that it pretty much makes up for the slight slowness of the action before then. The other weakest moment in the show is probably the cliffhanger itself, which occurs quite abruptly, and is not hard at all to “figure out”.
But that’s a minor quibble for what turns out to be an enjoyable romp through space.
Richard Lynch, who plays Baran, was in all five episodes of The Phoenix, the famous TV series that starred Judson Scott (who appeared in ST II: TWOK, and the TNG episode Symbiosis). He also appeared in an episode of Manimal and in the three part pilot of Galactica 1980. So you know, good stuff.
Robin Curtis plays Tallera. She is best known as the 2nd Lt. Saavik, in Star Trek’s III and IV.
Caitlin Brown (Vekor) appeared for a while on Babylon 5, when she was known as Julie Caitlin Brown, in the regular role of Na’Toth. This included one episode that also guest starred Robin Curtis, mentioned above.
Cameron Thor (Narik) was that guy in Jurassic Park who paid Nedry to steal the dinosaur embryos.
Bruce Gray plays Admiral Chekote, a role he’d already played for one episode of Deep Space Nine. He was also Surak on an episode of Enterprise, and Uncle Scott for the first season of Falling Skies. He also co-starred in the Canadian TV series, Traders, and appeared as the Interrogator in two episodes of Babylon 5, including the well-remembered Intersections in Real Time which was made up almost entirely of scenes between Gray and series star Bruce Boxleitner.
Sabrine Le Beauf plays Ensign Giusti. She appeared regularly in The Cosby Show as eldest daughter Sondra Huxtable (later Tibideaux)
Stephen Lee (Bartender) also appeared in The Vengeance Factor, and in the three-part Quantum Leap episode as a sheriff.
Shout out to the Past:
• Picard references Minos Korva, which was a big deal in Chain of Command.
• As a smuggler, Picard calls himself Galen, after his old teacher from The Chase.
• Gold-pressed latinum – I think this is the first mention of the currency in this series (although not in the franchise).
• Crusher showing up with a phaser is cool in the opening bit is cool. “That’s my sister. She’s got a fiery temper…”
• The alien in the bar talks about seeing a group of aliens…
• Troi’s pretty emotional her scene with Riker, and doesn’t completely sell it. Jonathan Frakes does a bit of a better job.
• Admiral Chakotay? OK, apparently it’s “Chekote”. It’s nice that the Admiral complies with Riker’s request, and we don’t have a “going rogue” sort of story
• Glad to see Riker man up a bit when he gets info out of the scaly alien
• The death of the security officer is a bit jarring! Data seems slow to act with the away team under fire. There are a lot of bad shots in general in this phaser fight. And Geordi is hiding behind some sort of very convenient looking brick wall. Oh, brother, now both Riker and Picard are gone!
• And now we’re getting ship to ship combat, immediately after the ground skirmish. All this action helps to account for this episode being sort of awesome.
• Good line from the captured Riker to “Galen” – “Still wish you’d killed me?”
• Everyone’s arguments with Baran about why he should kill Riker alive sound pretty convincing, as much as Baran’s arguments against doing so are weak.
• Picard’s “Gambit” to get Riker in the ship’s good graces is really well done. I love the way these two are able to trust each other to understand what they are trying to do. Later we see the same thing with Data.
• “Still wish you’d killed me?” – Great line from Riker to Picard, or more accurately, disgraced officer Riker to Galen.
• Data orders travel at Warp Nine – I’m glad to hear it, rather than any of this go randomly slower than the ship is capable nonsense.
• We don’t have much time, Picard says to Riker…but they have plenty of time to do a whole bunch of key exposition
• Picard’s jump in and taking down the shields…it seems a bit obvious. Maybe the weakest part of Galen’s “performance”.
Dialogue High Point
My favorite comes when Riker is first meeting Baran, and learning about the neurological implant that causes pain. They were the idea of his predecessor to enforce disciple, says says Baren. Riker asks what happened to him? Baran responds…
He failed to enforce it with me.